Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Task (2010)

Reality Check

Just like their 8 Films To Die For series, After Dark's Originals are very hit-or-miss with genre fans. With engaging titles like Seconds Apart and mediocre entries like Fertile Ground, it's hard to tell what you're getting into when sitting down to enjoy one of their many frequent releases. The Task comes close--SO close--to being one of the best films in the history of After Dark, but unfortunately allows a flimsy ending and lack of gore to prevent it from reaching five-star status.

The film begins nicely and to-the-point with seven strangers being abducted by three men wearing clown masks. Placed in the back of a large van, handcuffed, and fitted with pig masks, the group is driven to a desolate area where they are taken out of the vehicle and filmed as they cry and beg for their lives. A shared sigh of relief comes when they find out that they have been accepted to be on a horror-themed reality show which they had auditioned for three months back and had likely forgotten about. No longer frightened (with the exception of one soiled contestant who chooses to back out of the game), the group is informed that their mission is to stay the night in an abandoned prison which is said to once have had devious acts occur inside at the hands of the cruel and masochistic warden. Once inside, each member will be given a chilling task that they have to complete with the help of the other contestants. If everyone makes it through the night and completes their respected tasks, they each receive $20,000 as well as a bonus cash prize if they can stick it out and work together as a team when needed. From here, the film shifts perspectives between the contestants striving to work together and complete their tasks and the TV show's production staff who's monitoring the players and controlling the horror and effects from inside of a giant RV outside of the prison. Everything seems to be going to plan and guaranteeing a hit show until the ghostly appearance of the prison's warden unexpectedly turns this reality program into an actual terrifying reality.

Don't let the intro paragraph to this review fool you. The Task is not a bad movie. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed nearly the entire film, up until the ending. The film takes the viewer on a "What's going on here?" type of ride and you're never thoroughly convinced of what's real and what's staged. Though this method has been used dozens of times, The Task stays on edge and keeps the viewer hooked with a cast that plays to the changing story extremely well. The ending sees a few twists play out; one that's expected and one that may or may not be, depending on the viewer. My only problem with this movie is that the final twist leaves so much to be desired. With an average runtime of an hour and a half, I would have gladly sat through another 30 minutes just to see the story deliver some real horror and expand on certain plot elements even more, as I was very interested in where the film was going before it abruptly rolled credits.

Also due to the ending, the film suffers from a lack of real violence and grit. There's only a handful of the red stuff in this film, and while gore isn't necessarily needed to make a successful horror movie, the ending opens up the idea of there being many more nasty deaths to be fulfilled.  Unfortunately, we'll never have the pleasure of seeing them. I'll leave it at that, however, as I fear giving away any of the twists by rambling on even further.

On the upside, the film is an overall success in terms technical specs. The camerawork is superior and the eerie, vintage look of the prison is heightened by some outstanding lighting that utilizes shadows, fog, and in/out camera focus to enhance the evil hiding in the dark. The sound is also crisp and spine tingling as the TV show's production team throws in the sound of screams and crying babies that mess with both the contestants and the viewer. I'm unsure of the film's final budget, but whether it was large or small, The Task uses it to its full potential and creates a wonderfully atmospheric experience.

One contestant in a shitty situation
Also on a positive note, the acting is perfectly on target for once in an independent horror film. While some characters have a few stereotypes that may seem a bit annoying at first, you'll learn to adapt to it and will probably be more forgiving after the film has finished and explained everything. Every actor in the film delivers a terrific and convincing performance and seem to have a great bond throughout the story. For once, every character gets along with the others and there's no machismo bullshit or slutty tramp characters refusing to work with others because they want fame and money for only themselves.

With a well-rounded cast, excellent production values, and a thoroughly fun and engaging story, The Task plays out like the brainchild between the House on Haunted Hill remake and MTV's early 2000s haunted-locale reality show Fear. With characters who display reason and logic and adapt realistically to the changing situations and challenges that the story brings, it's relatively easy to forgive The Task for falling through in the final act. Though I'd love to have seen the movie push on for just a little longer (and preferably see some more gore in the process), I'd still recommend this film to those of you looking for something fun to watch on a cozy weekend night, if only to see a film take a beaten plot and turn it into something refreshing. It definitely beats sitting around and watching those stupid cunts on The Bachelorette, right?

3.5/5 Stars

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